There's been quite a splash in the field of psychology around the concept of grit introduced around 2007 (Wikipedia article). For example, the associated TED talk has been viewed more than 10 million times.

Intuitively, the ideas make a lot of sense based on my own experience. While, based on the 1500+ citations in Google Scholar, it's a new idea in the field of psychology too, not just a phenomenon in the realm of public understanding of science.

However, what I don't quite understand is which one of the following two things this development represents:

  1. Either a new shorthand word ("grit") has been introduced for "correlates of success",

  2. Or, grit is distinct from correlates of success, and represents a new, standalone, awareness.

Having a new word for an old thing can actually be quite important, as it gives a sort of a visual mnemonic to summarise the major components of the correlates of success. (If someone is "gritty", that says more to non-psychologists than saying that the person "demonstrates traits correlated with success".)

However, it would be even more important if this wasn't just a linguistic advance, but a conceptual one. But for that, it would be necessary to show that grit is a concept distinct to correlates of success. Well, at least it should be possible in principle to conduct a falsifiable experiment to study the distinction. For example, if under certain circumstances grit could in principle be shown to be significantly negatively correlated with success, consistently, whenever such circumstances arise, that would establish it as a distinct concept.

So, what would be a scenario, under which, hypothetically, grit would be anticorrelated with success? (I can't think of any: in my understanding, whatever is not correlated with success cannot be called "grit". Is this the accepted understanding of grit?)

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Grit is about perseverance. You can persevere without being successful, but you're more likely to be successful if you persevere. And indeed, in contexts where the solution is not achievable, but you nonetheless persevere (i.e., are gritty), you might find grit to be negatively correlated with success. $\endgroup$ – mrt Feb 18 '17 at 4:41
  • $\begingroup$ @mrt That sounds logical, but looking at the paper, Table 1, which is the operational definition of grit (the items are the ones used in surveys that measure it), the six Perseverance items are mostly about episodes of perseverance that had led to success in the past (e.g. "I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge."). In other words, past perseverance + success is correlated with future success. What about eating bananas while achieving success in the past — is it correlated with achieving success in the future? One might tag on anything. So isn't there a circularity there? $\endgroup$ – Evgeni Sergeev Feb 18 '17 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ Here's another take. Suppose we take the definition of grit = "perseverance and passion for long-term goals" and write another set of survey questions to match it. For example, an item for "Perseverance of Effort" would be "I tend to keep pushing a 'pull' door until someone opens it for me". Isn't that a kind of perseverance? Surely, this alternative score for grit will be negatively correlated with success. So are there two kinds of perseverance, a good and a bad? (The former is the one that leads to success.) Grounding definitions in natural language is like trying to build on quicksand. $\endgroup$ – Evgeni Sergeev Feb 19 '17 at 8:19
  • $\begingroup$ The comments make this question seem completely subjective. The goals, motivations, and successes of an individual are unique to them. Training and completing a marathon requires perseverance and can count as a success to some. But might count as failure to succeed if you didn't place a top ten. $\endgroup$ – Reed Rawlings Mar 20 '17 at 19:34

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